Graduation losses not deterring high 2021 hopes for Wolverine soccer program

Nine seniors. Five all-conference players. Roughly 75 percent of last season’s offense.

Polk County is missing a great deal from its 2020 boys soccer squad. What the Wolverines do have for 2021, though, has thus far delighted head coach Josh Trejo and already has him dreaming big about making an early statement in the new Mountain Foothills 7 Conference

“We can compete,” Trejo said. “It would be great to win it this year. I think we have the potential to win it if we can figure out the back line.

“Our main goal is to make it to the playoffs and go from there.”

While Polk’s inexperience on defense is one of Trejo’s chief concerns entering the season, just a few months removed from an 8-3-1 campaign and second-round playoff run in a delayed 2020 season, it is also in the back where he has the least worry.

Senior Grayson Ball returns in goal for Polk, fresh off a junior season in which he was named the Western Highlands Conference Goalkeeper of the Year. Ball will be starting his third year between the pipes for Polk, and his experience has already been evident in the preseason, the veteran keeper constantly shouting directions to his defense during practices.

“Grayson Ball is phenomenal,” Trejo said. “If everything goes well, it could be another season for him to be goalkeeper of the year. Just having him back there and all his experience, he can read the game very well, and he’s been talking to his defenders and positioning them the way that he thinks they should be.

“He’s a solid keeper. If somebody happens to get out of place, you have some people say you have a 50-50 chance (of allowing a goal). I would say I have a 90-10 percent chance that he’s going to make the save. He’s just solid.”

The Wolverines will have senior Braxton Edwards returning to the Polk defense, with another familiar face, Brian Bautista, back after sitting out last season. Freshman James Purtill is expected to join that duo, with Owen Highsmith, Harrison Ashworth and reserve goalkeeper Cade Bright also possible players in the Wolverine back.

Trejo expects junior Carson Metcalf to “have a big role” at center defensive midfield.

The offensive midfield is also where Polk suffered one of its biggest losses to graduation in Co-WHC Player of the Year Matias Akers, the team’s leading scorer last season. But program newcomers Ben Korzelius and freshman Nate Martinez have impressed Trejo thus far in midfield.

“This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to coach Ben Korzelius,” Trejo said. “He came out this year and he’s just built different. He’s got all that experience from playing club. He’s pretty much running our midfield at the moment.

“We also have a freshman, Nathaniel Martinez. He’s come from California, and he and Ben right now are our attacking mids. They complement each other very well with Nate’s high work rate, Ben’s high work rate and they’re solid. They work well together.”

Some familiar faces are expected to fill Polk’s forward line with Cole Pereira and Jack Smith returning. Junior Evan Jones has rejoined the program after a year away and is expected to be another contributor upfront.

“Cole, his confidence is high,” Trejo said. “He scored two phenomenal goals against Enka (in a preseason scrimmage). Solo goals. Even at practice, he’s a totally different Cole, and I think he’s ready to step up into that role of leading on the field. He’s ready.

“Jack Smith has a hunger about him. Totally different Jack Smith from last season. He is going after it, strong, taking people on. He’s not afraid, and that’s the one thing, you have to have people who are not afraid to play. We’ve got some tough teams we’re going to play against.”

A tough non-conference schedule should prepare the Wolverines for their new league. Most of the schools in the MF7 have been staples of Polk County’s non-conference schedule in the past, so there’s a good bit of familiarity with those programs. Trejo’s club coaching experience in Rutherford County also makes him knowledgable about the teams there.

“East Rutherford is definitely going to be a hard hitter for us,” Trejo said. “They have two players that I used to coach that could win a game by themselves. That’s just the kind of players they are.

“I think Hendersonville and East Rutherford are the top two. I don’t know much about Patton. Chase will be good, too. But these are all teams that I’ve scheduled for non-confernce games previously.”

It all adds up to what promises to be a most intriguing season for Polk County soccer and Trejo, who begins his fifth season at his alma mater.

“We know that Hendersonville is going to be aggressive,” he said. “We already know that, but we need to match that aggressiveness and that intensity. And, right now, I would say we have that from the midfield up. Defensively, we’ve got to work on that.

“It’s going to be a better season than I was expecting, especially losing all of the people that we lost. I’m excited, the boys are excited and I think we’ll be fine.”